As a child is born, so are the parents with new roles assumed. Attachment is secured, and parents quickly become the experts in their child. With preterm birth, however, this quiet and essential period of discovery is interrupted. It is described as a traumatic and stressful experience. Programs that aim to address this focus on education and support. This qualitative study explores the effect on parents and staff of a novel and simple intervention of parents walking their baby in a stroller (Supportive Therapeutic Excursion Program, STEP). This study used a qualitative methodology that included 20 semi-structured interviews for content saturation to explore the experiences of parents and staff participating in the STEP program. We found an overall positive experience reported by both parents and nursing staff with STEP. Analysis revealed that as autonomy is fostered with parent education around transition to home, STEP brought a normalcy that was reported to bolster participating parents' self-efficacy and connectedness, two important elements for recovery from stressful situations. The potential impact of STEP can be far reaching because, although future research is needed, these data suggest that inexpensive programs that promote normalcy may enable self-efficacy and connectedness prior to hospital discharge.
Keywords: NICU; attachment; parental mental health; parents; preterm birth.